Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

under the wideMost of us probably know Robert Louis Stevenson as a famous author of fiction, including Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and of poetry, especially A Child’s Garden of Verses; some of us may be familiar with his accounts of his travels.  Many people, however, know little about his life.

This novel tells the story of Stevenson and his wife, Fanny.  As the book opens in 1875, Fanny, an American, has just arrived in Europe, bringing her three children with her.  This brave woman has left her unfaithful husband, determined to study art abroad, despite financial challenges and a language barrier.  Near Paris, she meets Louis Stevenson. Although he completed law school to please his father, his goal is to become a writer.  Fanny immediately charms him, and his lively, cheerful personality eventually wins her over.

After their marriage, they move frequently, seeking a climate where Louis’ lung problems will improve.  This takes them around Europe, to the United States, and at last on a long cruise around the South Pacific.  They settle in Samoa, where Louis takes an interest in local politics and becomes a beloved part of the community.  Fanny has many gifts, including enough writing skill to offer some helpful suggestions to Louis, the ability to run a farm in Samoa, and the patience to care for Louis during his health crises.

Horan’s thorough research includes reading the many letters by Stevenson, Fanny, and those who knew them.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

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